Bicep curls are fine for arms and deadlifts work your posterior chain, but to fill out your t-shirt you’ll need to put your back into it. Enter the exercise that hits your lats and biceps better than any other weighted move: the bent-over row.
Read on to maximise your biggest back lift and generate serious pulling power.
(Related: 5 tweaks for a bigger back)
- How to do it
- Expert tips
- The Bent-Over Row Is Way More Than Just a Back Exercise
- What is a barbell bent-over row?
- Bent-over row benefits and the muscles trained
- Barbell Grips
- How to perform a barbell bent-over row
- Common mistakes and how to fix them
- Bent-over barbell row variations
- Chest supported T-bar row
- Take home message
- Barbell Bent Over Row
- Barbell Bent Over Row Exercise
- 5 Staple Single Arm Dumbbell Rows You Should Be Doing The Best Row Variations For A Bigger Stronger Back & Healthy Shoulders
- 6 PHASES OF THE PERFECT DYNAMIC WARM UP
- Deconstructing the Dumbbell Row
- Exercise details
- Starting position
- Comments and tips
- Know Your Row: The Pros and Cons of 8 Different Back Exercises
- 1. Bent-Over Barbell Rows
- 2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows
- 3. Inverted Rows
- 4. Seated Cable Rows
- 5. TRX Rows
- 6. Chest-Supported Rows
- 7. Meadows Row
- 8. Upright Rows
- The Pendlay Row – How It Benefits Your Training
- Seated cable row video
- Barbell Bent-Over Row: Your Shortcut To A Bigger, Healthier Back
- Bent-Over Row Technique
- Bent-Over Row Form Tips
- Bent-Over Row Variations
- Bent-Over Dumbbell Row – Seated Cable Row Alternative
How to do it
1. Grab a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. With your legs slightly bent, keep your back perfectly straight and bend your upper body until it’s almost perpendicular to the floor.
2. From here row the weight upwards into the lower part of your chest. Pause. And return under control to the start position.
Good technique in the bent-over row starts from the top, as you begin to bend. Celebrity PT Scott Laidler recommends you bend over by pushing your hips backwards, instead of folding forwards.
“Pushing your hips back encourages you to keep your spine neutral throughout the entire exercise,” says Laidler. A curved back puts undue pressure on your spine, throwing the weight off and potentially causing a nasty injury. Ouch.
(Related: our 5 most common form fails)
Next, make sure when you lift the weight, you’re moving up and down, not out. “You see a lot of people throwing the weight slightly forward,” says Laidler. “This brings your anterior deltoids (shoulders) into play, when the exercise should be focusing on your lats.” Want that cobra back effect? Keep your bent-over row straight.
(WATCH: can’t make it to the gym? PT Alex Isaly demonstrates his best back exercises)
Finally, don’t get wrapped up in competition. “This is not an ego exercise,” says Laidler. “This is one exercise that lots of people get injured on.” High weights mean jerky reps, so pick a weight you can lift slowly: 5 seconds up, and 5 seconds down. Your form will improve and you’ll be stronger to boot, thanks to all that time under tension. Your back won’t know what hit it.
The dumbbell bent-over row
1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hip so your upper body is almost parallel to the floor.
2. Keep your core tight and your back straight as you row the weights up to your chest. Lower and repeat.
While splitting up the weight with dumbbells means your muscles work harder as they fight to keep your body balanced, that’s not all dumbbells do. “Because you can angle the dumbbells differently, you can assume a more natural position for pulling,” says Laidler. This is going to feel very different, and work your lats harder, than a barbell alone. The downside? You can’t shift as much weight as you can with a straight bar.
Underhand bent-over row
1. Stand holding a barbell with your palms facing up. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward by bending at the waist.
2. Keeping your back straight, and elbows close to your body, row the barbell towards your chest, squeezing your back muscles. Slowly lower to the starting position.
Despite its name, there’s nothing sneaky about it. “Using the underhand grip on a bar allows you to pull in a more natural fashion,” says Laidler. When you flare your elbows out during a row, your shoulders begin to come into play. Because the underhand grip keeps your elbows in check, you’re much less likely to activate your shoulders during the lift, keeping the emphasis on your lats. It’ll also build titanic biceps as a bonus.
1. Head to a flat bench and place your right hand against it under your shoulder, keeping your arm straight. Rest your right knee on the bench and step your other leg out to the side.
2. With your free hand grab a dumbbell off the floor and row it up to your side until your upper arm is parallel with the floor. Lower slowly back to the floor and repeat.
“You need loose hamstrings to hold the posture of a normal bent-over row,” says Laidler. “You’ll be better off with a single-arm row until you get the flexibility.” Can’t touch your toes? While you brush up on our beginner’s guide to mobility, our single-arm row activates your lats and preps you for the lift.
The Bent-Over Row Is Way More Than Just a Back Exercise
While rows are primarily a back exercise, they recruit the rest of your body as well-which is what makes them a must-have for any strength-training routine. The dumbbell bent-over row (demonstrated here by NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti) is just one of many ways to reap the benefits, but it may just be one of the most accessible.
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row Benefits and Variations
“The main muscle group targeted is your back, more specifically the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids,” says Lisa Niren, head instructor for running app Studio. You can even tweak the row slightly to target different parts of your back: “Pulling the weight higher to your chest works your upper-back muscles while pulling the weight closer to your waist works your mid-back muscles,” she says.
Take care to keep the shoulders “down and back” the entire time to ensure you’re working the correct muscles, says Christi Marraccini, trainer at NEO U in New York City. “Especially toward the end of your set, when you may be tempted to let your shoulders creep toward your ears,” she says.
The bent-over row (and any back exercises, for that matter) are important to incorporate into your strength routine to maintain the balance of strength between the back and front of your body. “The bent-over row is the perfect complement to the bench press because it targets the muscles on the opposite side of your body,” says Heidi Jones, founder of SquadWod and Fortë trainer. (Try supersets of the bent-over row with a dumbbell bench press or push-ups for a killer-but balanced!-lifting set.)
The bent-over row exercise also targets your biceps, as well as muscles in your shoulders and forearms, plus your legs and core. (Yes, really.) “The abdominal and lower-back muscles contract to stabilize (or keep your body in place) while performing the exercise,” says Niren. “Strengthening these muscles improves your posture and spinal stability, reducing the risk of lower-back injuries.” (Related: Why It’s Important to Have Strong Abs-and Not Just to Get a Six-Pack)
On the flip side, however, the bent-over row may irritate the lower back in some individuals. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the standing bent-over row put the largest load on the lumbar spine compared to the inverted row or standing one-arm cable row. If the standing bent-over row causes lower-back pain, try the inverted row with a suspension trainer or hanging under a barbell. Or, to make it easier overall, select smaller dumbbells.
Want an added challenge? Try flipping your hands to an underhand grip (dumbbells horizontal, parallel to shoulders and wrists facing forward away from your body) to target your biceps and lats even more, says Jones. If you want to load even heavier weight, try the bent-over row with a barbell and an overhand (palms facing your thighs) grip.
How to Do a Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart and holding a medium- or heavy-weight dumbbell in each hand by sides. With knees slightly bent, hinge forward at the hips until torso is between 45 degrees and parallel to the floor and dumbbells hang below shoulders, wrists facing in. Engage core and keep neck neutral to maintain a flat back to start.
B. Exhale to row dumbbells up next to ribs, drawing elbows straight back and keeping arms in tight to sides.
C. Inhale to slowly lower weights back to starting position.
Do 4 to 6 reps. Try 4 sets.
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row Form Tips
- Keep your eyes focused on the floor slightly in front of feet to maintain a neutral neck and spine.
- Keep core engaged throughout each set and try not to move your torso at all.
- Focus on squeezing shoulder blades together at the top of each rep.
- By Lauren Mazzo @lauren_mazzo
Do you want to build a bigger and stronger back? There are several ways of doing this but one of the best is the barbell bent-over row.
The back muscles are some of the biggest on the body, so it’s important to focus on powerful movements to target them while maintaining the correct form and technique.
What is a barbell bent-over row?
Barbell bent-over rows are a great exercise for building a bigger, stronger back and perfect for anyone looking to improve their squats, deadlifts and bench press.
Considered to be one of the original big-muscle moves, this compound exercise requires you to pick the barbell off the floor, while bending forward and lifting the bar towards your sternum. Your knees should be bent, with your back staying straight, and neck in line with the spine. Your grip should just be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
The bent-over position can potentially cause a little discomfort or even risk of injury, so it’s important to use proper form. The form is extremely important with bent-over dumbbell rows, so it’s vital you choose the right amount of weight. You’ll benefit much more from slow and controlled movements.
Bent-over row benefits and the muscles trained
This is one of the best exercises to maximize muscle growth and increase pulling strength in the upper body, not to mention the effects it will have on your physique.
The main muscles used are the latissimus dorsi (lats), which run down the sides of your upper back, trapezius (traps), and rhomboids (upper middle back). The barbell bent-over row also uses the back, glutes and legs to stabilize the body too. It’s a powerful movement, so a don’t be surprised to see improvements in your other lifts.
When performing bent-over rows you can either have your hands in a pronated (palms facing down) or supinated (palms facing up) position.
A supinated grip will incorporate more of your biceps into the movement, meaning you can hold the bar at a narrower angle — and lift slightly heavier.
By pronating your grip, you’ll make the rhomboids and lats work harder. You’ll also be able to use a wider angle to place further emphasis on the lats and help develop those back muscles.
The grip variation you choose to use is entirely up to you. You should choose the method most comfortable and suitable for your goals. We’re going to focus on pronated grips for the ultimate back-building workout.
How to perform a barbell bent-over row
1. Hold a barbell with a pronated grip (palms facing down). Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
2. Bend your knees and bring your torso forward slightly. Your back should be straight and almost parallel to the floor. This is your starting position.
3. Lift the barbell up towards your sternum, keeping your elbows tucked in and close to the body.
4. Pause and hold at the top of the movement, squeezing your back muscles.
5. Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
6. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
- Pushing your hips back will help you to keep your back straight throughout the exercise
- Pulling your elbows behind you, rather than pulling the bar up will help activate your lats and keep everything tight.
- Pausing at the top of the exercise and squeezing your shoulder blades together is a great way of building your back and developing posture.
Common mistakes and how to fix them
Jerking the weight:
The most effective way to train is by controlling the weight you’re lifting. If you’re having to jerk the weight, then you’re probably lifting too heavy.
Not only are you increasing the risk of injury, but you’re taking the tension away from the muscles you want to work. So picking the right weight is important — don’t ego lift.
Having an arched back is another mistake you’ll see all too often. It’s a quick way of causing an injury, so take your time, and use the correct form.
Make sure your back is straight and your core is tight, keeping control of the weight throughout the whole movement.
Using too little range of motion:
This normally tends to happen when you’re standing in a more upright position and almost turning the exercise into an upright row. This will mean you are not bent over enough, taking away the movement from your back muscles and using more of your shoulders.
No spotter is needed for this lift, but it is always good to have another set of eyes watching your form.
Bent-over barbell row variations
The T-bar row is another exercise that targets the main muscles in the back and is great for building strength. Like the barbell bent-over row, T-bar rows rely on a pulling movement to work the back muscles.
For this exercise, you’ll also need to use the barbell, but this time the bar needs to be placed into a landmine machine (that metal tube built on a pivot system).
Once you’re in this position you may need to use a handle, as not all gyms will have a T-bar row handle. If that’s the case, a seated row V close-grip handle will work too.
How to do a T-bar row
1. Load the barbell with weight, before straddling ad gripping it at the weighted end.
2. Pull the bar towards your chest, keeping the elbows tight and squeezing at top of the movement.
3. Lower the bar back to the starting position.
4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Chest supported T-bar row
Also known as a lying T-bar row, the chest supported row is an excellent exercise for maintaining good posture, reducing the chance of injury from poor form and technique. As the upper body is supported and your lower body is taken out of the movement, the back is forced to do all of the work — meaning total isolation.
And, if you’re gym doesn’t have a T-Bar row machine, you can always use a bench and a set of dumbbells.
How to do a chest supported row:
1. Load the T-bar row machine with your chosen weight. Adjusting the height so your upper chest is resting at the top of the pad.
2. Lie face down and grasp the handles on the machine.
3. Lift the bar up and extend your arms to the front. This will be the starting position.
4. Pull the weight up slowly towards your chest, squeezing your back at the top.
5. Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position. Keeping the movement controlled throughout.
5. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Take home message
If you want to build an all-round strong developed back, then the bent-over barbell row has got to feature in your back workout.
Whether you’re bodybuilding for that aesthetically pleasing look, strength training/powerlifting or simply to maintain physique then this should be a regular in your gym routine.
As you’re in a bent-over position it does put you at risk of injury so it’s vital your form is correct and the weight is not too heavy, the last thing you want in later life or sooner than that is a bad back due to heavy lifting with bad form.
If you’re already doing this movement and need to freshen it up look into the alternate exercises, this keeps your workouts fresh and exciting, but will also stop you from plateauing.
Want to master another move? Check out this article:
Beginner Chest Workouts | The Best Exercises for your Upper and Lower Chest
2019-07-05 11:30:31 • By Grant Koch
Barbell Bent Over Row
Barbell Bent Over Row Exercise
The barbell bent over row is a great exercise to strengthen the musculature of the back and core. It also strengthens the shoulders, and to a lesser degree, the arms.
A barbell should be used for this exercise. A traditional barbell may be used, and to increase the resistance, lifters may add weight plates to each side. Some gyms have fixed weight barbells which are shorter than a traditional barbell and the resistance is not adjustable. These fixed weight barbells often increase in resistance by 5-10 pounds (50 lbs, 55 lbs, 60 lbs, 65 lbs, and so on). Also, some gyms have barbells that weigh 35 lbs, and occasionally less.
The barbell bent over row may be too advanced for women who are just beginning to strength train. Because most gyms commonly have traditional 45 pound barbells, unless you have access to a lighter barbell, beginners may prefer to start with a different row variation which allows them to start with a lighter resistance. Great row exercise options for beginners include inverted/modified rows (on rings, suspension training straps), inverted rows on a barbell that is set up in a squat rack or on a Smith Machine (use a pronated or supinated grip), single arm dumbell bent-over rows (half kneeling on bench, split stance, or tripod stance with one hand on a bench), seated or standing rows using a band, cable, or machine (can be done with one or both arms).
The barbell bent over row is a great option for lifters with an intermediate level of experience, who have mastered some of the rowing variations for beginners that are listed above. If an upper body pulling workout is being performed, lifters should place the barbell bent over row somewhere in the first half of their workout when their body is fresh. If a full-body workout is being performed, the barbell bent-over row can be paired with a lower body compound movement (but avoid pairing it with any deadlift variation as both require that your body is in a hinging position), or an upper body pressing movement. You can also make it part of a conditioning circuit. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the barbell bent over row.
Women who are comfortable with the barbell bent over row may choose to use this row variation as well as increase their weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6). The barbell bent over row may also be used as part of a conditioning circuit or barbell complex. Women can also make this exercise more challenging by performing negative rows and lowering the bar in 3-5 seconds as this increases the eccentric component of the movement, or they can add band resistance to the barbell.
Benefits of Barbell Bent Over Rows:
How a woman chooses to use a barbell bent over row is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general barbell bent over rows can be used to do any or all of the following:
- increasing upper body strength, primarily in the back
- increasing upper body strength in the shoulders, and to a lesser degree, the musculature of the upper arms and forearms
- increasing core strength in the erectors, scapula stabilizers, and the anterior core
- building muscle
- fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
- conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)
How to perform a Barbell Bent Over Row:
- Place a loaded barbell on the floor or in a squat rack at about mid-shin height.
- Set your feet so they are about hip width apart, and keep your knees so they are slightly bent.
- Get into position by performing a hip hinge and really pushing your hips back. You can pretend that you are trying to push your hips back into a wall that is behind you.
- As you push your hips back, keep your spine neutral (do not bend at the waist and do not round your upper back), and keep your chest up (but do not over arch your back).
- Your hands should be just on the outside of your legs. Grip the bar so your palms are facing you.
- Before you pick up the bar (deadlift the bar to a standing position), take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (I like to pretend that I am about to block a soccer ball with my stomach), and lightly tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection).
- Now before you get into your ”rowing stance,” repeat the same breathing and bracing pattern that you just did, and hinge your hips back so you are in the starting position.
- Row the barbell toward your waist by initiating the movement with your back, not by pulling with your arms. You should feel the muscles of your back squeeze your shoulder blades together and down. You can pretend that you are tucking each shoulder blade into the opposite back pocket of your pants.
- If you are pulling with your back, your forearms should remain relatively vertical and you should be leading with your elbows, not your forearms and hands. Otherwise you are basically performing a bent-over biceps curl.
- Stop the movement when your shoulder blades can no longer move together.
- On the lowering portion of the row, stop the movement before the front of your shoulders collapse and rotate forward. They should remain pinned back for the duration of the exercise, and should not be used to create momentum.
- Maintain a neutral spine for the duration of the exercise. Do not allow your back to round or hyperextend, and do not allow yourself to slowly creep into a vertical stance as this is very common. You will accomplish this by keeping your core braced and rib cage tucked towards your hips.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps
- At the end of your set, take another deep breath in, brace your core, and deadlift the weight back down to the floor or rack.
Barbell bent over rows are a fantastic exercise to challenge your upper back and your core. Unfortunately, they’re an exercise that gets butchered a whole lot. So a few things to remember.
When you’re doing the barbell bent over row; your lower body is essentially doing a hinge when you’re rowing the weight. So you’re pushed back into your hips and your core is nice and braced as you row. You’re not bending at the waist and rounding the back, you’re pushed back into your hips and sitting back into your hips and glutes.
When you go to row the weight, it’s really important to pull your shoulder blades back and down. What you don’t want to happen is for the elbow to come back past the shoulder, as that’s a bad position for the shoulder to be in. So you want to think about keeping your elbows close to your body and pulling your shoulder blades back and down together, holding for a second, and then releasing.
So I’ll show you what that looks like. Make sure you pick up the weight properly, just like a deadlift, hinge back into your hips, brace your core, and row. One thing that you’ll see is people trying to row the weight all the way to their stomach. But the problem is that they can’t pull their shoulder blades back that far. They end up here, and then in order to pull the weight all the way to their stomach they rotate their shoulder forwards and pull their elbows back and again, that’s a poor positioning for their shoulder. So make sure you’re thinking: hinge position, pull back into your hips, shoulder blades, core braced, shoulder blades gliding over the rib cage, and squeezing your back together.
5 Staple Single Arm Dumbbell Rows You Should Be Doing The Best Row Variations For A Bigger Stronger Back & Healthy Shoulders
6 PHASES OF THE PERFECT DYNAMIC WARM UP
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The King of All Rows
If your goal is to develop a strong and muscular back that looks as good as it performs, you better damn well place an emphasis on the row. The single arm dumbbell row and its many variations provide the cornerstone of smart back training, and facilitate a myriad of non-aesthetic and strength benefits such as healthy shoulders and improved spinal posture.
But even with the mass benefits across the board that the single arm dumbbell row offers, many strength athletes have their priorities mixed up when it comes to back training, putting all of their training emphasis on vertical pulling movements such as a chin ups and shrugs instead of the hammering away at a common weak link in strength and shoulder health, the horizontal pull aka the row.
While well executed vertical pull variations are not inherently dangerous, very few lifters actually present with the requisite movement and skill capacity to train these more advanced movements without performance or orthopedic repercussions.
Too much poor vertical pulling not only places undue stress on the shoulder joint under too much volume and intensity due to the natural internally rotated glena-humeral (true shoulder joint) biomechanics of the movement, but it also only targets a fraction of the musculature that the horizontal row is capable of hitting.
So yes, if you want to build a bulletproof backside that performs as impressively as it looks, it’s time to start dialing back the volume of vertical pull work in your program, and start investing in perfecting the row pattern instead! Here are the 5 staple single arm dumbbell row variations that you should be mastering and progressing to increase intelligent pain-free volume into your back work into your routine.
Why The Single Arm Dumbbell Row Is So Damn Effective
From a strength and functionality standpoint, the single arm dumbbell row should be placed in every single type of training program, period. The unilateral nature of this movement challenges the entire pillar through the hips, trunk and shoulder girdles, while targeting large key movers on the backside of the body. The only question that remains are what single arm row setup should you use based on your specific strength, hypertrophy or performance goals?
With so many to chose from, it can get confusing for even a season veteran of the iron game. So I have broken down the five most effective single arm row setups (from most basic to most advanced) and detailed the differences and focus each movement to program this back training staple to yield the most results that are geared specifically to your goals.
Use these variations to guide you through a step by step approach of rebuilding the horizontal pull pattern. Once you’ve mastered the execution of the movement and challenged loading capacity to a high enough level to elicit a training effect, keep moving up the pyramid to advance your row work to fit your skill level and training goals.
#1 Kneeling Single Arm Dumbbell Row
If you are a novice lifter or have a history of lower back pain and/or dysfunction, the kneeling three point single arm dumbbell row provides the most stable setup to work from while also minimizing the shift and compensation at the hips and lower lumbar spine that is commonly associated with poor rowing mechanics.
The three points of contact are your foot on the ground, opposite hand placed on the weight bench, and the entire length of your opposite shin in contact with the weight bench in order to increase the total contact area, hence increasing the stability of the setup of this single arm dumbbell row variation as a whole.
Aside from being a great way to teach and master properly executed single arm rowing mechanics, this setup is an effective choice for secondary training days where you want to minimize the stress placed upon the stability of the spine and hips. With more emphasis placed on the dynamic movement itself, the exercise becomes more joint friendly and easier to target the active muscles directly.
- Position yourself on the weight bench with your opposite arm straight with the hand in contact with the bench, same side leg out extended in contact with the floor and opposite shin in full contact with the bench and the ankle crease up against the edge of the bench.
- From this stable position, grab the dumbbell in one hand and ensure that your base is stable by activating the core, glutes, arm and leg that are responsible for static support.
- Row the dumbbell back activating at the lats and focusing on “squeezing” the dumbbell back to your hip, NOT driving the elbow up as commonly practiced incorrectly.
- Tension for a split second at the top of the range of motion and control the eccentric lowering portion until your arm is in a straightened position at the elbow.
- Throughout the reps in a set, maintain constant tension in the muscles of the back and work hard to create smooth and coordinated motions up and down.
#2 Symmetrical Stance Single Arm Dumbbell Row
The symmetrical stance single arm row provides the opposite setup of what we just reviewed with the kneeling three-point stance single arm dumbbell row variation. Due to having both feet in perfect symmetry underneath the hips and the core and spine in a parallel and non-rotated position relative to the floor, the symmetrical stance single arm dumbbell row challenges the core with a greater need for anti-rotation activity throughout the single arm row movement.
This variation is the preferred setup for high performance athletes and other functionally minded lifters who want to “kill two birds with one stone” in their training. This is largely due to time constraints, having a different goals set or focus for training, or just thinking it will have a higher amount of transference into sport of physical activity.
Check out this VIDEO as I teach Dave Tate of EliteFTS the symmetrical stance row at time clock 14:30.
These is no doubt that this variation is the most challenging of the three that we will review in this article, and if you don’t believe me, stay strict on your form and see your loads decrease as your core activity increases. Again, this variation is great for linking up the kinetic chain and creating segmentation synergy, but absolutely limits the top end loads that are able to be moved and controlled by the active back musculature involved in the row. So if you are more aesthetic and strength minded, move onto the last setup we will review, the split stance single arm dumbbell row in the next section.
- Place your feet in the power stance just below your hips with the toes pointing directly forward.
- Using the hip hinge motion, push your butt back and bend at the knees slightly to set your hips and spine in a perfectly stable position to work from.
- Place your opposite hand on the weight bench or any other elevated surface and maintain a straight elbow position.
- At this point, your spine should be parallel to the ground.
- Pick up the dumbbell and begin to row towards your back hip without altering your base of support at the hips, supporting arm or legs.
- Maintain coordinated and smooth rhythm of the row throughout the set.
- It should be noted that the most limiting factor of this type of row setup may indeed be the core, so place your focus on maintaining properly aligned core positions throughout the set.
#3 Split Stance Single Arm Dumbbell Row
If you are a serious strength or aesthetic athlete that wants the best strength and hypertrophy stimulus possible, I would recommend you master the split stance single arm dumbbell row setup for a few key reasons.
First, it allows just enough core and pillar involvement to be deemed functional and transferable to other major lifts or activities. Secondly, due to the angle of the torso during this movement, you will be able to load this variation up heavier while still managing to maintain a stable and neutral spine. And lastly, due to the split stance setup, the hip on the active rowing side (back hip) remains slightly higher than the opposite side hip, creating a pre-stretch through the lats. This pre-stretch really activates the entire lat and places it in a position to do some major work.
My favorite feature about this setup is the ability to allow the lat to stretch at the bottom of the range of motion by letting your shoulder blade protract and upwardly rotate. While still maintaining control, this end range accentuated stretch will allow a greater range of motion that is great for mobility maintenance and expediting the pump to the active muscles.
Again, the greatest thing about the variables that I mentioned above including core involvement, torso angle and pre-stretch hip height, is that you can manipulate these setups to taper this staple rowing movement to your body and your goals. Every single person will have unique anatomy and anthropometrics, so finding your perfect setup by manipulating these variables is necessary for advanced lifters to keep progressing.
Give this setup a shot, and make sure to slightly alter your stance and setup out of this initial recommendation based on your goals, and more importantly, what you feel!
- In a split stance, position your front leg facing forward with a slight bend in the knee while your back leg is semi-straightened with your toes pointing out at an angle to open up and elevate the back side hip.
- To elevate the hip and achieve a pre-stretch of the lat, rotate the rowing side hip up slightly bringing your toe pointing more directly out to the side.
- The opposite arm will be placed on a stable surface such as a weight bench or dumbbell rack. To manipulate your torso angle, use higher or lower surfaces for your arm support.
- From this stable position, grab the dumbbell and row back towards the hip. With the pre-stretch of the lat, let your shoulder blade rotate freely around the thoracic cage, accentuating the range of motion used during the row.
- Allow your thoracic cage to move slightly into extension and rotation during the pull phase of the motion, and forward rotation and slightly flexion during the eccentric stretched lowering phase.
- With the increased scapular and thoracic cage movement, ensure there is minimal momentum and compensation being used.
- Finally, this is a more advanced variation; so master the three point stance before progressing to this.
#4 Decline Arcing Single Arm Dumbbell Row
While the single arm dumbbell row is a movement pattern that predominantly takes place in the horizontal plane of action, advanced lifters can reap the benefits of slight angulation changes in order to target the lats and upper back to a greater degree. Using a traditional flat weight bench with slight inclines or declines can help achieve novel angles to work from in order to clean up functional weak links or accentuate activation or specific muscles that are active in the chain.
Though a slight incline can absolutely be useful in training, I prefer to teach the slight decline from a strength and hypertrophy plateau busting standpoint due to the position the declined angle naturally allows the shoulder (and more specifically the shoulder blade) to fall into during the eccentric portion of the exercise.
Placing a few weight plates under one side of the bench then kneeling on that same side changes the angle of the torso, and in turn, the shoulder complex before the acting rowing motion even starts. With a more declined angle, the shoulder blade can achieve greater degrees of protraction and upward rotation at the bottom aspect of the range of motion that essentially “stretches” the muscles at the bottom at terminal end range.
Training from the stretch can be a helpful driver for enhancing the mind muscle connection while also expediting localized blood flow into the area, which is helpful from both a corrective and hypertrophy standpoint. Lastly, the decline angle forces an arcing type motion of the dumbbell moving from front to back aka “towards the hip” which helps the shoulder cue extension, which is a prime movement that targets the lats.
All of these benefits can be simply achieved by changing the angle. Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. And for a quick “corrective” fix for flailing elbows on the single arm dumbbell row, try out THIS variation that has proven highly effective for cueing the arcing row with an external banded cue.
- Place 2-3 weight plates under the head of a traditional flat bench.
- Kneel on the high side of the bench which the plates are positioned under.
- Achieve a 3-point kneeling stance on the decline angled bench per #1 above
- Allow the dumbbell to “stretch” the bottom aspect of the motion while still staying under control with full tension around the shoulder joint at all times.
- Drive the dumbbell up and back towards your hip in an arcing motion.
- Activate and squeeze your lats, focusing on the lower rib cage insertion points.
- Control the eccentric action slowly under tension down into the stretched position and repeat.
#5 Split Stance Dead Stop Single Arm Dumbbell Row
Every foundational movement pattern is comprised of three phases of muscular action; the eccentric, concentric and amortization phases. The eccentric lengthening which occurs at the back happens when the dumbbell approximates the floor, while the concentric happens when the dumbbell is driven up towards the hip. Between these two phases, AFTER the eccentric and BEFORE the concentric is where the amortization phase takes place, aka the change of direction phase.
While moving through all phases of action is a standardized skill which every lifter should be able to master with the single arm dumbbell row, there are certain advantages to taking away the stretch-shortening cycle that occurs in the amortization phase in order to peak higher activation in the musculature comprising the back while also improving starting strength positioning.
This can be simply achieved with a dead stop row variation which incorporates the dumbbell resting on the ground between each rep of the single arm dumbbell row. For advanced strength and hypertrophy training, this is the top of the movement pyramid for the single arm dumbbell row which can spark a huge training effect due to it’s novelty and variance.
- Position the feet in a split stance.
- Hinge the hips over and bend the knees to allow the hand to come close to ground contact.
- Use the opposite hand to stabilize this asymmetrical stance by gripping the dumbbell rack (or a bench).
- Start the dumbbell down on the ground to the side of the back leg.
- Grip the dumbbell hard, tension the hips, core and shoulders together, and pull explosively.
- Peak the flex at the top of the range of motion and accentuate the eccentric back down into the starting position.
- Allow the dumbbell to settle on the ground and do NOT ounce it with touch and go style reps.
- Repeat for the prescribed reps, then reciprocate the feet and hands to train the opposite side.
About The Author
Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized coach, physical therapist, speaker, and sports performance expert. Dr. John has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes, including multiple Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pros, MLB All-Stars, Professional Bodybuilders, World-Record Holding Powerlifters, National Level Olympic Lifters and All-World IronMan Triathletes.
Dr. Rusin is the leading pioneer in the fitness and sports performance industries in intelligent pain-free performance programming that achieves world class results while preventing injuries in the process. Dr. John’s methods are showcased in his best selling Functional Hypertrophy Training Program that combines the best from athletic performance training, powerlifting, bodybuilding and preventative therapy to produce world-class results without pain and injuries.
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Deconstructing the Dumbbell Row
For the more enlightened, a stroll through the free weight section of your typical commercial fitness center can be a painful experience. Cheat curls in the squat racks, feet-flailing and high-kicking chest presses, quarter squats on the Smith machine, and various Bosu abominations performed in the unwavering pursuit of “function.”
Most of these trainees would get much more out of their workouts if they just learned to perform the basic lifts properly. With that in mind, here are my basic rules concerning weight training technique:
- An exercise should work what it’s meant to work.
- An exercise done correctly is way better than an exercise done poorly with more weight.
- People who do the same thing over and over without seeing any appreciable gains in performance or aesthetics – or that get injured – need an intervention in the form of a scissor kick to the back of the head.
Take the dumbbell row for example. While it might seem to be a painfully simple exercise to perform for even the most kinaesthetically-challenged desk jockey, I rarely see flawless dumbbell row execution.
Sadly, what I usually encounter looks like a perverse combination of a triceps kickback and a dumbbell concentration curl performed with more momentum than a crowded CrossFit class.
What the Dumbbell Row is Supposed to Do
The one-arm dumbbell row, when performed correctly, is one of the most versatile “bang for your buck” upper body exercises in your arsenal. The movement involves scapular retraction and depression, along with spinal extension and compression through the thoracolumbar region, and also acts as a core stabilization exercise through anti-rotation and anti-flexion.
The latissimus is one of the only muscles to run directly over the vertebrae of the thoracic, lumbar, and sacral spine, with direct tie-ins through the SI joint, making it an important exercise for back pain sufferers. Additionally, it helps develop thickness through the upper and mid back that’s difficult to get through deadlifting or squatting alone, and helps improve scapular mechanics.
The row is typically intended to work the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, lower traps, and erector spinae, and requires a large degree of stabilization from the rotator cuff. This means that if you’re doing it correctly, you should feel the muscles between and below your shoulder blades working like crazy.
However, if you were to ask a dozen people in the gym where they feel it working, they’d tell you their elbows, biceps, wrists, shoulders, neck, hairline, glutes, and pretty much every part of their body except their lats.
Since no one’s really working their lats, and the lats play a major role in low back and sacral segmental stabilization, we can logically deduct that one of the reasons many have a bad back is due to poor kinaesthetic awareness of their own spinal and scapular positioning on different movements. Maybe it’s a chicken versus the egg debate, but the end result is still the same.
People tend to approach the dumbbell row with a kyphotic thoracic spine, posterior pelvic tilt, head too low or too high, elbow flared out to the side, wrist curling at the end to get extra height on the lift, massive torso rotations, jerk-pulls to use momentum for the last little pull, and any number of other movements that could be considered anything but a row.
Below is a good Dumbbell Row:
Mow, Mow, Mow Your Lawn
The old analogy of a row being “like starting a lawn mower” wasn’t right even when people knew how to start a lawn mower, but now we have to look in our grandparents’ garages just to find this relic from the past. No one uses gas powered mowers anymore; few even have a lawn to mow at all. Is it any wonder why apartment and condo dwellers can’t figure out how to start a lawnmower in the gym if they’ve never started one in real-life? We need a new plan.
Your spinal position can influence your shoulder mechanics. As the lats are supposed to retract and depress your scapula, the row movement will only work properly if the spine isn’t stuck in kyphosis.
A rounded back will limit the mobility of the scapula and make the exercise impossible to work the lats. By “straightening out” the spine and getting it into more of a neutral position, you allow the shoulder blade to move properly and get the lats and rhomboids to pull properly.
Here’s a bad row with kyphosis:
Next, many trainees pull the weight straight up, which may seem like a common sense thing to do with a weight moving against the pull of gravity. But look at your positioning. The lats are below the shoulders, with the upper trapezius and levator group above the shoulders.
Due to the angle you’re positioned on a bench, pulling straight up would work more of the upper traps and levators instead of the lats and rhomboids, as evidenced when you see someone’s neck disappear at the top of their rows.
Below is a bad wide-elbow Dumbbell Row:
The row movement should almost be a spiral movement of the shoulder blade, not one of merely lifting the weight from Point A to Point B. The direction of pull involves having the shoulder blade retract and depress, basically moving in the direction of the opposite back pocket.
The benefits of teaching this cue instead of simply going straight up are that it forces the person to maintain a neutral or even extended spine to pull the shoulder into the pocket, and also reduces the chance of cranking up the activity of the upper traps. Working in kyphosis with a load while simultaneously coming into extension and rotation is a one-way ticket to a screwed up spine.
Let’s address the spinal rotation issue. In most cases, rotation doesn’t come from the scapula and shoulder but from the spine and hips, becoming more of a single-leg leg press with a weight in your arm than an actual row.
This can be attributed to a lack of scapular retraction to get the weight into the right position, and becomes a compensation pattern by turning the torso to get the body closer to the hand instead of the other way around.
With this movement the spine should be almost completely stationary, with the arm and shoulder rotating around it. The scapula should be retracting and depressing in that spiral movement, meaning it’s doing all the work. This is where the row becomes a really great anti-rotation exercise as well as a back exercise!
Here’s a Dumbbell Row with bad torso rotation:
A helpful cue to use when getting the spinal position to stick in neutral is to have the lifter flex their low back muscles and core muscles simultaneously until they can feel them holding tight. The lats act as a spinal extensor as well as a scapular retractor and depressor, so getting the low back to contract can help increase the amount of maximal contraction the lats can do with the activity, as well as help stabilize the spine for the movement.
A lot of people will say “engage your core,” which makes many think “flex my abs,” and inadvertently pulls them into a posterior pelvic tilt and slight spinal flexion.
While having the abdominal contraction is good, the change in spinal position isn’t, so thinking about contracting the low back simultaneously helps keep everything happy. Plus, with the number of desk jockeys out there who can’t get their lower backs to actually strengthen properly, making them aware of how to contract those muscles is an added benefit.
Finally, the finishing position in the row is typically with the scapula not in full retraction, a position that could indicate that the rhomboids and traps aren’t working to their full potential. This will commonly look like a slouchy shoulder.
Below is a Dumbbell Row with poor scapular retraction:
This is a great example of a shoulder that isn’t retracted and depressed enough to complete the movement. The spinal positioning is good, but the scapula isn’t doing its job. It’s sort of like a biceps curl not going through full elbow extension. Sure, the muscle is still working, but it’s a far cry from bang-on perfect.
This could also be coming from tightness in the anterior shoulder, specifically through the clavicular head of the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. If you can’t get your shoulder to retract all the way, it could be a combination of weak rhomboids and tight pecs, so doing some self-myofascial release on your pecs or even just gentle stretching may improve the range of motion and allow your rhomboids to contract through an unimpeded range of motion.
Here’s an example of self myofascial release:
By pulling the shoulder back and thinking to “stretch the pecs” during the movement, you can ensure that the lats and rhomboids are doing everything they’re supposed to do, and get that fantastic pump of a hard-working muscle between and below your shoulder blades.
Dumbbell Row Variations
Once you’ve mastered the basic technical components of the row, you can start to work on variations of the movement. By staying in only one movement pattern, you increase the chances of either hitting a repetitive strain injury (think distance runners leg & hip injuries), or at the very least hitting a plateau in performance that decreases the productivity of the workout.
By changing some small variables, like grip or stance, you can continue to stimulate new muscle fibres within the muscles being used, and give them some new stimulation to ensure they continue to grow and adapt. It also mixes things up so it’s not the same old same old.
Here are few Dumbbell Row variations:
Holding the dumbbell at different points makes the grip and forearm muscles work differently, which affects the arms’ ability to stabilize the weight and changes how the exercise affects the movement pattern.
Changing the position of the feet and hips provides a different base of support, pelvic position, and spinal position, which affects the muscles’ ability to pull and thus the movement pattern as a whole. It’s small changes like these that can lead to big differences.
Get Rowing, Get Growing
I was admittedly once one of the meatheads in the gym who thought heaving around the 120-pound dumbbells with absolutely atrocious form was making me stronger and packing on muscle so fast that the hot figure competitor girls would be lining up to make out with me.
Sadly, I merely looked like an overzealous dork with skinny lats who’s dating options were as limited as my exercise expertise. Once I dropped the weights and focused on the technique components listed above, I was able to not only see an increase in back thickness, but I began lifting more weight with other exercises. I even found a girl to make out with on occasion. (There truly is hope for us all!)
- Fenwick et al (2009). Comparison of Different Rowing Exercises: Trunk Muscle Activation and Lumbar Spine Motion, Load & Stiffness. J Str Cond Res 23(5): 1408-1417.
- Target muscles: The back in general
- Synergists: Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, Posterior Deltoid, Middle and Lower Trapezius, Rhomboids, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Brachialis, Brachioradialis, Sternal (Lower) Pectoralis Major
- Dynamic stabilizers (not highlighted): Biceps Brachii, Triceps Brachii (especially the long head)
- Mechanics: Compound
- Force: Pull
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral (hammer) grip, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping a natural curvature of your spine, flex your hips and knees until your torso is horizontal or close to horizontal.
- Allow the dumbbells to hang down by your sides, with your shoulders stretching downward.
- Keeping your elbows close to your body, exhale as you pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your waist.
- Hold for a count of two and squeeze your back muscles.
- Inhale as you lower the dumbbells to the starting position, with your shoulders stretching downward.
Comments and tips
- Keep your neck level and head up, and try to maintain a natural curvature of the spine.
- Pull with your elbows, not with your biceps.
- Keeping your torso horizontal (or close to horizontal) and your elbows tucked in will ensure that you activate the right muscles.
- The bent-over two-arm dumbbell row is great for developing upper-body strength once you master form and are able to go heavy. However, start light to allow your lower back time to adapt.
- If the bent-over two-arm dumbbell row is hard on your lower back, use the bent-over dumbbell row or the cable row.
Know Your Row: The Pros and Cons of 8 Different Back Exercises
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Every time you step into the gym, you have a virtually endless array of exercises at your disposal. Knowing the benefits of each exercise and the effect it can have on your performance is an incredibly valuable piece of knowledge. One type of movement with an especially huge number of variations? The Row.
The basic movement of a Row is like a reverse Bench Press. You use your upper body to pull a load rather than push it. But within that basic description, there is lots of room for variation. Over the years, a number of Rows have increased in popularity and found their way into workout routines. With that in mind, STACK took a look at eight popular Row exercises to inventory the pros and cons of each. Which row is right for you?
1. Bent-Over Barbell Rows
The Bent-Over Barbell Row is an old-school exercise that is super effective for building back mass and strength. It’s a favorite of legendary bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and top teams like Maryland Lacrosse integrate it into their routines.
“In terms of overall strength and hypertrophy for the posterior chain, it’s tough to beat the Bent-Over Barbell Row,” says Kasey Esser, C.S.C.S. and certified personal trainer.
The Bent-Over Barbell Row is an anti-flexion exercise, which means your lower back must keep your torso from folding over. This is excellent for building lower-back strength and stability. The position for this Row closely mimics the position for the Deadlift, and Esser sees a positive relationship between the two exercises. “I’ve found them to have a big time carryover,” he says.
Bent-Over Barbell Rows are great if performed correctly, but that’s not often the case. Typical form issues include poor hip hinge, incorrect weight distribution, improper tempo and lifting with a flexed spine. “I wouldn’t say it’s a beginner’s movement,” says Esser. If you’re new to Row exercises, Bent-Over Barbell Rows might not be the best place to start. If you’re a Row pro and are already performing Bent-Over Barbell Rows, check out this video to make sure your form is on point.
2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows
Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows differ significantly from both the Bent-Over Barbell Row and the Seated Cable Row. They are performed single-arm-style using a dumbbell. They can be done either free-standing or with the support of a bench. Athletes like Antonio Gates use them in their routines.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows do a great job of targeting both the back and the core.
“Every time the dumbbell is lowered, the torso has to stay stable. So you’re training the core to resist rotation,” Esser says. Since you Row with one arm at a time, Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows allow you to focus on your form and build both sides of your back equally, decreasing the likelihood of developing muscle imbalances.
However, Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows have a couple of drawbacks. Since they heavily challenge your core and force you to lift with one arm at a time, you probably have use lighter weight than you do for other types of Rows. There’s also a common form problem: athletes twist their torso at the top of the movement to help them generate momentum; but that can be corrected by focusing on maintaining a flat back and using lighter weight.
3. Inverted Rows
The Inverted Row is a bodyweight exercise that requires you to fight gravity to pull yourself up to a fixed bar. It is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do to build a stronger and broader back.
Inverted Rows are a full-body exercise. Keeping your body in perfect posture as you progress through the movement requires not only back strength, but also glute and core strength. Inverted Rows encourage you to control your own body weight in motion—which is what sports performance is all about. One concern with Inverted Rows is that pulling yourself all the way up to the bar can put extra pressure on your shoulders, elbows and wrists. To avoid this, add a small pad around the bar or pull yourself within 3-4 inches of the bar at the top of the movement.
4. Seated Cable Rows
Seated Cable Rows ditch the barbell in favor of a cable machine. Unlike other Row variations, they are performed in a seated position. Programs like UNC Baseball and athletes like Terrell Owens include Seated Cable Rows in their routines (though Owens typically uses a resistance band).
Seated Cable Rows might be better than Bent-Over Barbell Rows for athletes who have trouble with their hip hinge and lower-back strength, because Seated Cable Rows place you in a stable upright position, where you can focus more on strengthening your scapulae than your lower back.
Esser says, “The athlete tends to be in a very stable position with their torso upright, so Cable Rows are great for learning how to use the scapulae to pull a weight.”
If you’d rather get on your feet than be in a seated position, you can perform Cable Rows in a variety of different ways. Steve Nash likes to do them single-leg, single-arm-style, while Ryan Matthews likes to add a Squat to the movement.
The simple form and potential creativity are big pluses for Cable Rows, but they do not build lower-back strength like Bent-Over Barbell Rows.
5. TRX Rows
TRX Rows are like Inverted Rows, except they’re performed using TRX straps rather than a stationary bar. Since the TRX isn’t a fixed implement, it requires an extra effort for stability. Your core and glutes have to work harder to maintain proper posture throughout the movement.
TRX Rows are great for anyone who has back issues, because they allow you to control the weight, difficulty and movement of the exercise better than other Rows. “From my experience, TRX Rows work very well at working the back, the core and the glutes simultaneously, even for someone with a history of back injury,” Esser says.
Another benefit of TRX Rows: they allow you to increase and decrease the difficulty of the movement by simply moving forward or backward. The further you move your feet forward, the more difficult the exercise becomes. The further you move your feet backward, the easier the exercise becomes. You can add a med ball to increase the difficulty, like Kevin Durant does.
The only downside of TRX Rows is that they limit the amount of weight you can use to your body weight. That will work to get you bigger and stronger for a long period of time, but eventually you’ll have to hit the iron to keep seeing significant gains.
6. Chest-Supported Rows
Chest-Supported Rows put you in a belly-down position on an incline bench. From there, you use two dumbbells to perform a Row. This position is easier on the back than a standing position, and its a good way for beginners to learn the Row movement. If you want to focus on your upper back—and just your upper back—Chest-Supported Rows get the job done.
However, due to their supported nature Chest-Supported Rows don’t offer much bang for your buck. Other Row exercises hit your upper back, lower back, core and glutes, whereas Chest-Supported Rows target just your upper back. If you’ve got the time and energy to perform other variations, you’ll get more results for your effort. But if you’ve got lower back problems and want to target your upper back, Chest-Supported Rows are a smart choice.
7. Meadows Row
You might not have heard of Meadows Rows, but they definitely deserve to be on your radar. Invented by professional bodybuilder and C.S.C.S. John Meadows, they use a barbell landmine to provide a uniquely challenging single-arm Row.
Since they allow you to use a heavier load, Meadows Rows are a great alternative to traditional Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows. You can quickly load weight on and off, and since the end of a barbell is significantly thicker than a dumbbell handle, they also train your grip. Meadows Rows can give you a great pump, but anyone with a history of lower-back injuries might want to stay away from them. Since they require heavy Rows with one arm, they place a good amount of torque on your lower back. But if you’ve got a strong, healthy lower back and a stable core, give Meadows Rows a try and enjoy a premium back pump.
8. Upright Rows
As advertised, Upright Rows put you in a standing, upright position. You pull a barbell or dumbbell from below your waist to the top of your chest using a close grip. Upright Rows target your traps and lats. You’ve probably seen someone at your gym perform them—or maybe you’ve performed them yourself—but you should not include them in your routine.
According to Esser, they put your shoulder in a dangerous position that can lead to injury. He says, “The risk outweighs the reward. It puts your shoulder in an impinged position. The movement of Upright Rows actually closely resembles the Hawkins Test, a test doctors use to put the shoulder in impingement and check for pain. There are other things you can do to build your traps.”
A frequent cause of shoulder pain, shoulder impingement occurs when a bony part of your shoulder known as the acromion rubs against the shoulder tendon and bursa sac, creating inflammation and causing pain.
Upright Rows might build trap and lat strength, but safer options, such as Deadlifts, are a better choice.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock
The Pendlay Row – How It Benefits Your Training
The Pendlay Row, aka the bent over or bent forward row, is a great assistance lifting exercise for many power, strength and fitness athletes. This row variation is a more specific way to increase back strength and muscular development for pulling movements, such as snatches, cleans, and deadlifts. Additionally, the strict fashion of this row builds positional strength that carries over to weightlifting specific movements and pulls. Let’s explore why the Pendlay Row can be an effective training exercise across various strength and power sports.
The History of The Pendlay Row
The Pendlay Row was named after Glenn Pendlay, USA Weightlifting Coach, after his teachings of the bent over row to athletes. This strict row variation differs from the traditional “bodybuilding” bent row variation to better isolate the lats and mimic the pulling positions during weightlifting movements.
This training exercise is often performed after main power and strength lifts to further isolate the lats, spinal erectors, and patterning similar to pulling exercises.
Determining the intended training outcome of this exercise will dictate the order in which you may perform it in a training session/cycle.
The main goal of this exercise in weightlifting training is to develop and increase lats and lower back strength and muscle that are similar to the pulls in both weightlifting movements. Increasing the isolation of the hips and back allows lifters to apply additional stress to promote muscular hypertrophy under full ROM.
This assistance exercise allows for more specific training of the hips and back, both playing a crucial role in deadlifting. Additionally, lifters can work to improve stabilization of the lumbar and spine in the bent position, which will assist in the development of a healthier, stronger, deadlift.
Isolated exercises, often not seen in functional fitness WODs, can be a beneficial aspect to one’s program. The increased emphasis on hip, lat, and lower back development may improve not only the barbell lifts, but also injury prevention.
Generally speaking, strength and power athletes looking to use Pendlay Row to increase strength and muscle mass can perform these as follows.Generally, these rows are performed in strict fashion, with moderate loads of 6-10 repetitions per set.
- With the barbell on the floor, set up with slightly wider than shoulder width grip to increase lat and back width in the pull.
- Set the hips so that they are in line with the shoulders, keeping the lower back flat.
- With the barbell on the floor, create tension, and explosively pull the barbell to the base of the chest, making sure to not elevate the shoulders and/or allow the hips to come forward.
- Return the barbell under control to the floor, reset, and repeat for controlled, strict repeitions.
No matter your sport or goals, the Pendlay Row is a viable assistance exercise to increase back and hip strength and power, improve and maintain full ROM in the hips and pull movements, and ultimately diversifying your upper body training.
- Target muscles: None; the back in general (see synergists)
- Synergists: Erector Spinae, Middle and Lower Trapezius, Rhomboids, Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, Posterior Deltoid, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Brachialis, Brachioradialis, Sternal (Lower) Pectoralis Major
- Dynamic stabilizers (not highlighted): Biceps Brachii, Triceps Brachii (Long Head)
- Mechanics: Compound
- Force: Pull
- Sit facing the cable row machine and place your feet on the foot rests.
- Grasp the double-row bar and slide your bottom backward until your knees are almost straight. You torso should be leaning forward and your arms and shoulders should be stretching forward.
- Exhale as you slowly lean backward, straighten your back, and pull the v-bar to your abdomen, keeping your elbows close to your body. Pull your shoulders back and stick out your chest at the top of the movement.
- Hold for a count of two and squeeze your back muscles.
- Inhale as you slowly lean forward and return the double-row bar to the starting position, with your arms and shoulders stretching forward and your lower back bent forward.
- Repeat for the recommended number of repetitions.
- Do not excessively arch your back.
- Pull with your elbows, not with your biceps.
- Avoid swinging your torso back and forth.
- Start light and add weight gradually to allow your lower back time to adapt.
- Many people think that your biceps acts as a synergist in rowing exercises such as the seated cable row. In fact, it only acts as a dynamic stabilizer, along with the long head of your triceps brachii.
- Most people will tell you to keep your back straight and your chest out throughout the seated cable row exercise. That’s known as the straight-back seated cable row. It’s a different exercise, which doesn’t dynamically work your erector spinae (spinal erectors). The exercise described above does dynamically work your spinal erectors.
Seated cable row video
- ExRx.net, Cable seated row
Barbell Bent-Over Row: Your Shortcut To A Bigger, Healthier Back
Most people tend not to consider their back very much until the day it lets them down and they’re forced to spend hours lying in agony on a wooden floor. Even regular gym-goers will generally focus on more glamorous muscles and spurn the opportunity to address the stress and strain a deskbound lifestyle can place on your back. The problem? Your shoulders internally rotate, and this results in tight pecs and a stiff neck.
This often leads to a weakness in the lower back – at best causing pain and discomfort, at worst risking serious injury – and the problem is only aggravated if you add further stress on the chest and shoulders with endless pressing exercises.
The solution is obvious: place greater emphasis on your back training. Step forward, the bent-over row.
Your back muscles are the primary beneficiaries of the bent-over row, and as they increase in strength your posture will also improve so you don’t slump as much. Directly stimulating your lats, traps, rhomboids and rotator cuffs works wonders for your body. A stronger back with better posture – what’s not to like?
If you’re a bench press obsessive, you should also find that adding this to your weights session helps balance out your upper body muscles – the bench press focusing on pecs and shoulders in contrast to the back-building row.
Bent-Over Row Technique
Form is all important with the bent-over row, and the best way to ensure you don’t get sloppy is to pick the right amount of weight. Slow, controlled movements are of far more value than jerking up a massive weight and twisting all over the shop.
Once you have your barbell loaded, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and lean forward from the waist. Your knees should be bent, but your back stays straight, with your neck in line with your spine. Grab the bar with your hands (palms-down), just wider than shoulder-width apart and let it hang with your arms straight.
Brace your core and squeeze your shoulders together to row the weight up until it touches your sternum, then slowly lower it back down again. There’s one rep. With a light weight, shoot for four sets of eight to 10 reps.
Bent-Over Row Form Tips
Once you’re set up for the move – leaning forward a bit, bar in hands – think about pulling your elbows behind you, not pulling the bar up. It’ll help to activate your lats and keep everything tight.
Pause at the Top
Most trainers will tell you that if you can’t stop at the top of each rep, you’ve picked a weight that’s too heavy. Touch the bar to your sternum, pause, and squeeze your shoulderblades together at the top of each rep. You’ll build better posture that way.
Bent-Over Row Variations
Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row
By reversing the grip, you place more of a load on your lats and lower traps.
Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
An excellent variation on the bent-over row is to sub out the barbell for a set of dumbbells. Having two weights requires a little more coordination, and, more importantly, stops you relying too much on the stronger side of your body for the entire row. Opting for dumbbells instead will help you balance out your strength on each side. Start with the dumbbells just below your knees and allow your wrists to turn naturally during the movement.
One-Arm Dumbbell Row
This beginner row targets one arm at a time and is a good stepping stone to the full bent-over row if you’re struggling with the exercise. Put your right hand and knee on a bench, hold a dumbbell in your left hand and let it hang straight down, with your palm facing in. Row the dumbbell up, squeezing your shoulder blade in, then slowly lower it. Do all reps on one arm, then switch to the other side.
Once you’ve got the hang of the one-arm dumbbell row on a bench, you can increase the difficulty of the movement by supporting your body on an gym ball instead. This unstable surface will challenge your core muscle to keep your steady while you complete the movement, which should give you a stronger base when you attempt the barbell version.
Dumbbell incline row
If you want to ensure you’re not rounding your back during your rows, try this variation. Set up the bench at a 45° angle and lie chest down on it holding a dumbbell in each hand, letting the weights hang down towards the floor. Row the weights up to your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together, then lower them again. Make sure your chest stays in contact with the bench throughout so your torso remains in the correct position.
This tougher take on the standard barbell bent-over row takes its name from Glenn Pendlay, the weightlifting coach who championed it. With the Pendlay row, you bend over so your back is parallel to the ground and lower the barbell all the way to the ground with each rep. Otherwise the form points are the same – overhand grip, shoulders squeezed together at the top of the rep, core braced. You will need to reduce the amount of weight you use with the Pendlay row because of the extra challenge involved in lifting the barbell from the ground with each rep.
This particular variant is named after British bodybuilding icon Dorian Yates. The six-time Mr Olympia was renowned for sporting an impressive, dominating back and attributes that largely to his twist on the classic bent-over row. Keeping your back straight, adopt a more upright stance, with your torso at a 30-45° angle to the floor. Row the bar towards your lower abdominals, pausing at the top of the movement to squeeze your lats. This variation is also useful for mid-lower trap activation – crucial for improved posture.
This move uses lighter weights but produces a strong scapular retraction (the action of pulling your shoulder blades together). Keep a slight bend in your elbows, then raise the weights straight out to the sides until you reach chest height, without moving your upper body.
One-Arm Barbell Row
If you want to (a) really target your lats with your rows, and (b) look like a bit of a legend in the gym, try the one-arm barbell row. You will need a loaded barbell and a fair bit of space to do this, but people will be impressed and copying you in no time so they won’t begrudge the room you’re taking up. Stand by the side of the barbell and bend over to grab one end near the plates. Staying in the normal bent-over position, row one end of the barbell up, then lower it slowly.
Bent-Over Dumbbell Row – Seated Cable Row Alternative
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by jburgeson on March 30, 2016
Main Muscles Worked: Mid back, Latissimus Dorsi, Trapezius, Rhomboid, Deltoid, Bicep.
Other Exercise Names: Dumbbell Row, Bent Over Row.
Equipment Needed: dumbbells
Instructions: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms in. Slightly bend your knees and bring your trunk forward by bending at the waist. Keep your head neutral and keep your back straight; almost parallel to the floor. The dumbbells should be hanging directly in front of you as your arms hang perpendicular to the floor.
Without moving your torso, keep your elbows close to your body and lift the dumbbells to your side. Be sure and pull using your back muscles – don’t jerk your forearms or biceps in an effort to force the weight up. At the top of the movement, contract the back muscles and hold for a brief moment. Then slowly lower the weight to the starting position. Repeat for reps.
Comments: If you lack the dumbbell variety for this lift, just use the bent-over barbell row instead. It requires no equipment that you shouldn’t already have.
Many thanks to bodybuilding.com for their extensive exercise image & video collection.
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